The longtime publisher of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency Mark Joffe announced on
July 25 that he was leaving the helm of the New York-based news wire after a
remarkable 17-year spell.
But there was more to the announcement than the
press release revealed.
The change in leadership was the culmination of a
tough two-year period for the news organization, whose financial woes are shared
by many of the roughly 250 Jewish media outlets in America, which reach a
combined audience of some 2.5 million people, according to the optimistic
numbers provided by the American Jewish Press Association.
Over the past
two decades, US Jewish media and print journalism in general have been in steady
decline due to dwindling readership and loss of ad revenue to the
When the recession hit two years ago it dealt a devastating blow to
an already weakened industry.
Under pressure from JTA’s board to balance
his budget, Joffe had to let go of several staff members, find news ways of
raising money and cope with growing disgruntlement among employees, a source
familiar with the issue who spoke on condition of anonymity said.
budget was balanced but relations inside the organization were frayed. When the
time came Joffe – who is credited with bringing the 93-yearold news wire into
the digital era by creating its Web site in 1997 and digitizing its archives –
was ready to go. The only thing left to work out was his pension
Ami Eden, JTA’s editor-in-chief who replaced Joffe, spoke to The
last week about his organization’s future and that of Jewish
media in the US in general.
Eden, a 37-year-old modern Orthodox family man who worked at The Philadelphia Jewish Exponent
and The Forward
before joining JTA in 2007, said the staff cuts in recent years were probably inevitable, but that media outlets could learn important lessons from their budgetary challenges.
“Two, three years ago media outlets weren't taking a hard look in the mirror when they invested their budget.
Then you have a major budget problem, and we realized what we were doing with
five people we could have done with two,” Eden said. “The lesson is every year
when you budget, you have to be asking, ‘Are you using two people who could be
doing one? The shame of it is that had media outlets been taking a hard look
earlier, we could have shifted personnel to work on new projects.
Instead, because of the economy the cuts simply went to reducing a deficit.
Hopefully now we can get back to the point of figuring out how to deploy
our people to make things better." Looking ahead, he declared one of his “top priorities” would be
greater cooperation with other Jewish media outlets.
collaborations were “percolating,” Eden said, and would materialize between “12
and 18 months.”
“I think it’s clear that most American Jewish newspapers
haven’t figured out how to make money online,” he said.
“Why should we
not try to create a unified Web presence having one big Web site with a team
that’s constantly keeping it fresh? We clearly could be pulling our
technological resources and sharing the Web traffic. If we’re all investing in
the same Web traffic, it becomes a great idea.”
Eden declined to go into
However, Samuel Norich, the publisher of the Forward
York City’s storied Jewish weekly, confirmed that he has “reached out” to Eden
regarding an online partnership.
“We would be an attractive partner for
another Jewish media partner to build a site,” he told the Post
. “As it is, the
market is divided among many players and there are many synergies between JTA
But forming partnerships is easier said than done. At
various points in the past two years JTA had been in talks with the Forward
York Jewish Week
over potential partnerships, a source said. But
“I think two years ago people were uninterested [in
cooperating],” Eden said.
“Now people are eager.”
different? Perhaps it’s the recognition that the journalistic playing field has
irreversibly changed. Much of the readership – mostly older people with stronger
ties to the community than younger generations tend to have – is gone or
shrinking. Meanwhile, although online advertising has shown promise it has
failed to fill the void left by the loss of print ad revenue. Some say that in
this changing and uncertain market, Jewish media face a hard choice: Join forces
or face ruin.
Either way, it is certainly in the best interest of the US
Jewish establishment to have a vibrant and healthy media picking up news that
otherwise wouldn’t fit in with local or national media.
American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee] work spans 70 countries outside of
America, so a well-informed Jewish audience here at home is vital for us,” said
Steve Schwager, the head of JDC. “Under Joffe, JTA excelled in reporting Jewish
news from Siberia to Addis Ababa, from Argentina to Australia. We hope that
level of professional excellence will continue.”
Haviv Rettig Gur, the
Jewish Agency’s new spokesman, knows both sides of the Jewish
media-establishment divide well, and spoke of their symbiotic
“The Jewish world is immense and its institutions are worth
billions of dollars,” he said. “That industry needs a media to break open what
is hidden and debate use of money and discuss priorities, and it has to be
robust. How you sell that to the community is another issue.”
believes that to draw more readers, Jewish media in the US have to focus on more
Stateside coverage rather than the Mideast and find new niche areas, citing as
an example the popular Fundermentalist philanthropy blog by JTA’s Jacob
“I think there are readers out there who care a lot about the
Mideast and AIPAC,” Eden said. “These people are online checking out Israel all
the time. If we have just a little bit of information on Israel it’s meaningless
to them. Yes, we have to do Middle East issues really well. But at the same time
is that all we are? Forget it. We’re going to move different from Haaretz
We have to find different new niche areas and home in on
them.”(The writer was an intern at JTA for six months.)